Share of Life

The Missing Debate

Written by
Sebastian Jespersen
The Missing Debate

By the end of 2020, the five technology titans (the Fab5) were racking up valuations in the trillions of dollars, serving global customers by the multibillions and reaching out to online touch points in the zillions.

The prevalence in our lives of Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google and Microsoft, when most of the world was sheltering in place was like nothing seen before.

The pandemic transformed shopping, dining, fun-time and work-time dramatically. How the disaster will impact long-term individual behavior remains a puzzling question mark.

Adding to the uncertainty, there is a mounting number of Fab5 antitrust cases in the USA and a host of regulators clamping down worldwide. Current lawsuits against the internet superpowers are much more crucial than the one against Microsoft in the nineties.  

Steve Lohr, a 30 year veteran journalist at the NY Times, put it this way:

“Today’s technology powers touch far more sectors of life than Microsoft ever did. The Microsoft antitrust case was fairly narrow. Questions about Big Tech now have a bigger canvas than antitrust. It’s also about misinformation, their ability to shape public opinion, data hoarding and whether that should be reined in.”

On one side of the great debate, prosecutors and regulators condemn Big Tech monopolistic practices that squelch competition. On the other side we have the hands-off demands of the Fab5.

The digital revolution has reached a point where people no longer go online. They live online. This reality got a tremendous lift from the reliance on Amazon and the other internet goliaths during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The controversy swirling around the unbridled power of Big Tech will take years to resolve itself. Steve Jobs had a totally different persona than JP Morgan and the “Robber Barons” of the industrial revolution. Each century revisits how we define what constitutes illegal antitrust activities.

Government officials in America now accuse Facebook of smashing competition. Google is accused of illegally protecting its control of search. Strict rules and massive fines limit Big Tech in Europe.

Each of the internet giants pioneered its own spectacular journey. Yet they share a number of traits in common that are under assault around the world.

  1. Control of Behavior. The Fab5 own an overpowering role in vital aspects of life online. Google has built a 90% share of search reaching out to over 500 billion web pages.  Amazon controls more than 50% of online shopping. Microsoft with Windows has an 88% market share on all kinds of devices. Facebook Inc. have connected more than 3 billion people. The online titans set the rules for digital interaction. Huge size crushes attempts at rivalry.
  2. Limitless Partners. As if that wasn’t enough, mighty corporate entities partner with other tech companies to amass still more clout.  Google puts its search engine front and center on billions of smart phones.  Amazon’s website serves up product offerings from almost every brand across the retail spectrum. Consumers can order just about anything from Amazon at the click of a mouse. People save time. Big Tech collects commissions from countless partners..
  3. Big-time Buy Outs. The huge stack of cash and soaring stock value held by each of the Fab5 is used to buy out the most promising digital newcomers. Google’s hundreds of takeovers fuel the brand’s enormous growth. At the top of the list, of course, stands YouTube. Users watch almost 5 billion videos in a single day. Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 just two years after the photo and video sharing website was launched. Purchase of Instagram by Facebook for a billion dollars seemed like a shocking amount when it happened. Actually, it was a steal measured against what the platform has become. According to the latest Hootsuite stats, over 1 billion people now use the wildly popular network every day. Nobody knows which recent startup is likely to be the next YouTube or Instagram. But in all likelihood the buy out will be made by Google. Facebook, Amazon, Apple or Microsoft.

The creative in-house genius of the Fab5 is another major source of runaway growth. Ongoing involvement in cloud computing, streaming entertainment, the gaming, boom, personal digital assistants, abundance of data and other developments heighten the amount of time people spend living online.

During the Covid-19 crisis, Big Tech generated truly awesome numbers. When so many Americans were losing their jobs, Amazon added over 400,000 workers to handle soaring online sales. Over a million men and women are now in its workforce.

How big will Big Tech get to be?

The antitrust and regulatory debate recently got a rude shock. Twitter permanently suspended the president’s connection to 88 million followers. Facebook made the same move on a temporary basis. Some commentators said that Trump’s loss of his social media bullhorn could mean more to him than the loss of the presidency.

It seems to me that the debate about controlling Big Tech has been looking in the wrong place for answers.  The focus has been on competition in America rather than how to help people worldwide have a better day-to-day existence in cyberspace.

The digitized way of life we construct online can be a danger for all of us or the greatest windfall ever for mankind and womankind.

With the internet erasing boundaries and blurring borders around the globe, we can access the same information and tools whether we are in New Zealand, Singapore, Denmark or Chicago. The problem is that there are no international standards protecting us.

Global threats online require a global response.

Meeting worldwide challenges such as climate change, inequality and nations at peace, is the work of the UN General Assembly. The organization has identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals to reach by 2030. I suggest adding an 18th global challenge.  

How do we create a safe and meaningful digital Life for everyone on the planet?

It would be in the interests of Big Tech to get behind the proposed 18th SDG goal. It is mutually beneficial for business,  governments and individuals to make a momentous life for themselves in cyberspace.

We live in an electronic environment that changes by the day. Every company does business through the miraculous internet . This the new way of life wherever they may be located or how sizable the firm happens to be.  Brands can boost a meaningful Share of Life™ with users online while committing to standards that protect customer data from misuse.

Tim Berners-Lee, who unleashed the World Wide Web more than a generation ago, now is raising the alarm about Big Tech acquiring too much power and too much personal data. He has started a new company offering an innovative tech step forward to give online users needed protection.

Mr. Berners-Lee is intent on returning the ownership of personal data where it belongs in a person’s hands. The new technology clears the way for a fresh burst of digital innovation.

What has been missing in the debate about corralling Big Tech is now emerging. We live on one planet, and we need to give the same consideration to our life online as we do to our physical world.

Those who support developing a global UN sponsored 18th Sustainable Development Goal can change the future scope of life online in a responsible and meaningful way.  

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